Milwaukee Bucks: 49 years in 49 days – 1978-79 season

MILWAUKEE - 1982: Junior Bridgeman #2 of the Milwaukee Bucks dribbles against the San Antonio Spurs circa 1982 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1982 NBAE (Photo by Robert Lewis/NBAE via Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE - 1982: Junior Bridgeman #2 of the Milwaukee Bucks dribbles against the San Antonio Spurs circa 1982 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1982 NBAE (Photo by Robert Lewis/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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The Milwaukee Bucks’ 1978-79 season was the final big bump in the road before the most sustained run of success in franchise history.

The season: 1978-79

The record: 38-44

The postseason: N/A

The story:

With a young star in Marques Johnson surrounded by a capable core of players around him, it seemed like the Milwaukee Bucks were destined to be a team on the rise. Unfortunately, sometimes things aren’t what they appear.

More from Bucks History

After making it to the second round of the 1978 NBA Playoffs, the Bucks slumped in the 1978-79 regular season. Although the team had a top five offense and a middle-of-the-road defense, Milwaukee won just 38 games.

Strangely, the metrics are convinced that Bucks team was not that bad. They were expected to win 47 games based on point differential. Somehow, despite losing 44 games, Milwaukee actually outscored their opponents on the season. Unfortunately for this year’s team, winning by 20 is still just one win, and losing by 2 is still a loss.

Milwaukee’s wins came by an average of over 14 points per game that season, while Bucks losses saw a point differential of about half of that. Additionally, the team struggled on the road, going 10-31 in their games away from home that season.

For all the losing, Marques Johnson did not take a step back whatsoever. Quite the contrary, he was good enough to make the All-NBA First Team, thanks to insane averages of 25.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game. No Buck before or after managed those per game averages–although Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is essentially disqualified because blocks and steals weren’t tracked for part of his Bucks career.

Regardless, the point is Marques was very good but the team still was not. Part of the problem was the loss of Dave Meyers for the season. The second overall pick in the 1975 NBA Draft, Meyers was part of the return from the Kareem trade, and he had a promising year in ’77-78 after a quiet start to his career.

More from Behind the Buck Pass

A back injury kept Meyers out for the season, hampering the Bucks’ depth. Brian Winters continued to be good for roughly 19 points per game, but Milwaukee had a big problem–the Bucks didn’t have many good big men.

Kent Benson and John Gianelli got the most run out of any Bucks bigs, and while both were serviceable neither were extremely talented down low. Both of them could move the ball, at least, as they were two of nine Bucks to average 2.0 or more assists per game, an early example of the team passing Don Nelson teams became so gifted at.

Bad luck, both in close games and on the injury front, ended up costing the Milwaukee Bucks in the form of the team missing the playoffs. In a down year for the Boston Celtics, that’s too bad–the Bucks might’ve made some noise in the postseason.

Next: 49 years in 49 days: 1977-78 season

Fortunately there would be a payoff for the Bucks’ misfortunes that season. Milwaukee was one great player away from a truly talented core, and a good draft pick typically helps with finding one of those.